back to article Worried about future planet-cleansing superbugs? But distrust AI? Guess you're not interested in these antibiotics

Although new strains of antibiotics are increasingly difficult to develop, scientists have done just that, with the help of a neural network. The drug – named halicin as a hat tip to HAL 9000, the fictional AI bot in Arthur C. Clarke's Space Odyssey – was singled out by the trained software as a likely antibiotic candidate …

  1. redpawn Silver badge

    Sorry Dave,

    I'm afraid I can't let you take that. Would you like to hear a song or have some synthetic cannabis instead?

    1. EVP

      Re: Sorry Dave,

      Stupid HAL, he doesn’t understand money.

      1. Use AI (well, an automated system anyway) to develop all possible antibiotic permutations that might be useful.

      2. Patent them.

      3. Wait for the bugs to evolve -> profit.

      Even better:

      1. Use AI to synthesize all antibiotics it possibly can.

      2. Patent them.

      2. Use AI to engineer bugs to match your patent portfolio.

      4. Release the bugs -> all the profit you can imagine, and then some more.

      Who’s in? Minimum investment 100 M€ / £83.7M

      1. Nifty Silver badge

        Re: Sorry Dave,

        If you believe the wilder of the current conspiracy theories, this is what happened with the Coronavirus.

        1. EVP

          Re: Sorry Dave,

          Oh no, there goes my golden future :/ Need to brainstrom more evil genius ideas to rule the world.

          (BTW, it’s no joke that human activity creates super-bugs: too many anti-bacterial products around us. No conspiracy theories needed. Antibacterial tooth paste is one of the worst ideas ever.)

        2. Chris G Silver badge

          Re: Sorry Dave,

          Outside of the West it is common public opinion that the virus is part Trump's plan to destabilise China's economy. One broadcaster mentioned the more than 150 bio-warfare research labs that exist in the States, true or not it's easy to see where this kind of thinking comes from.

          1. oldenoughtoknowbetter

            Re: Sorry Dave,

            "Trump's plan to destabilise China's economy"

            I believe this assumes too much ability to plan on the part of Trump and his ability to recognize cause and effect, although I understand the why some would think this.

          2. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
            Thumb Down

            Re: Sorry Dave,

            @Chris G - "Outside of the West it is common public opinion that the virus is part Trump's plan to destabilise China's economy."

            Well, in this Eastern location, your post is the first I've heard of this idea. Perhaps it isn't so public or common?

        3. MonkeyCee

          Re: Sorry Dave,

          " this is what happened with the Coronavirus."

          Apart from the having the cure part.

          It's a virus. Antibiotics don't work on virii. Yes, I do have to explain this to otherwise intelligent people who find back alley ways to get antibiotics when the doctor says no.

        4. LucreLout

          Re: Sorry Dave,

          If you believe the wilder of the current conspiracy theories, this is what happened with the Coronavirus.

          Its probably statistically more likely you'd die from all the tinfoil you'd need in your hat to believe such a thing than it is that you'd die from the Corona virus.

      2. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Sorry Dave,

        1. Use AI (well, an automated system anyway) to develop all possible antibiotic permutations that might be useful.

        2. Patent them.

        3. Wait for the bugs to evolve -> profit.

        Something similar used to happen (and possibly still does) in many chemical companies. They'd employ researchers to mix up chemicals in some informed-but-mostly-not-random fashion and see if the resultant goop could be of any possible use for anything. I was told this by a chemistry teacher who spent the first two years after getting his degree testing goop for shampoo-like properties. If anything interesting turned up the company would then patent the goop and wait for a competitor to bring a similar product to market before setting the lawyers on them.

        Two years of shampoo-seeking was enough to convince my teacher that a move into education would be a more interesting career, albeit one which would primarily involve stopping teenage boys from poisoning each other or blowing up the lab.

  2. Chris G Silver badge

    So it's a neural network a one trick pony that is not intelligent.

    If it can only deal with one ste of parameters without being re-engineered, it is not intelligent at all.

    Insects have more smarts than that.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      The phrase "neural network" has really just become a buzz phrase. All they seem to be is just a giant logic box cable of sorting massive amounts of data. Maybe we need to train insects for figuring out things?

  3. Bilious


    There are easily recognisable elements from known antimicrobial principles. I can see three, but mechanistically completely different one. Sulfa, quinoline - and guanidino antiseptics.

    The with authors did on mechanism looks sound.

    The molecules seem to be stuffed with potentially reactive points, so the road towards clinical acceptance may be a thorny one. Treating a patient may become a race between killing bacteria and harming the patient. If it cures the patient with a single or very few doses, it may become a success. If long treatments are required, I am less optimistic.

    1. Chemist

      Re: Impressive

      This isn't new - various similar methods have been used before over ~~ last 20 years. I wish them well but in my experience the molecule found is horrible. If it came out has a hit in a screen I'd discard it without looking back - in fact it would probably hit ~ 10-20% of all screens. Some of the others in the databases look far worst BTW.

      2nd point is a hit - even if genuine - is not a drug. Safety, pharmacokinetics, distribution, and a whole lot of other requirements need to be met.

      Still we'll see. We certainly need new 'antibiotics'

    2. EVP

      Re: Impressive

      Thanks, your comment was useful to read. I myself don’t know much (i.e. ~nothing) about antibiotics research and synthesis. If you know more, please go ahead and give us an exec^h^h^hngineer summary on the topic!

  4. Boris

    Don't get too excited...

    Most new drugs never reach the market because of toxicity/side effects/plain don't work.

    Those that do typically take a decade to get through animal testing and then clinical trials before approval.

    Pretty soon after that stupidity and greed will kick in. Meat producers will use it to speed up weight gain in animals, and dispensers in poor regions will sell one (1) pill to poor customers because they can't afford the entire course. Both are excellent ways of rapidly building antibiotic resistance....

    1. Fading

      Re: Don't get too excited...

      Not sure weight gain is the principle reason for antibiotic use in industrial farming - surely steroids would be far more efficacious. I believe antibiotics are used to mitigate the poor conditions and hygeine of some intensive meat farming practices.

      1. Boris

        Re: Don't get too excited...

        It's true that antibiotics are used to prop up poor husbandry, but it's also been known for a long time that feeding low levels of antibiotics to animals promotes growth. It's finally being banned but China and the US have been openly doing this for decades.

  5. jmch Silver badge


    "Doctors and farmers doling out doses of antibiotics recklessly"

    This is particularly true.

    Farmers: Massive prophylactic use of antibiotics, giving them to all their hard not just any sick ones, just so they can cram more animals into a tighter space in the name of the Prophet Profit. AFAIK this is banned in EU, but pretty rampant in US. And goodness knows what happens in China, it's definitely not surprising that it's an epicenter for new viral strains and epidemics, given that many of these can be triggered by close contact with sick animals in terrible conditions.

    Doctors: This is a typical conversation I've had with multiple times with different doctors when one of my children had a fever:

    Doc: So I'm prescribing Ibuprofen to bring fever down and antibiotic

    Me: Are you sure they need antibiotic?

    Doc: Well, the fever is either a bacterial or viral infection, can't be sure so better take them

    Me: ?!?WTF?!? no thanks

    I always ended up agreeing with Doc that we would come back for antibiotics if the fever didn't disappear after 3 days. Never had to go back. Viral or bacterial doesn't matter, typically a healthy child's immune system will deal with it in a few days. Oh, and small tip, antibiotics generally take out good gut bacteria along with the nasties so whenever you have to take antibiotics, always ask doc to provide/prescribe some probiotics to repopulate after

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Overuse

      "AFAIK this is banned in EU, but pretty rampant in US."

      And in due course the products from the US will be on sale over here because "we" don't like over--regulation.

    2. Duffy Moon

      Re: Overuse

      "ask doc to provide/prescribe some probiotics to repopulate after"

      You can get probiotics on prescription?! I've never heard of this.

      1. jmch Silver badge

        Re: Overuse

        "You can get probiotics on prescription?! I've never heard of this."

        Not on prescription but they can recommend some

  6. Chris G Silver badge

    Is it me

    Or does Halicin sound like a bad breath lozenge?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is it me

      "Guaranteed to kill all bad breath bacteria or your money back!"

      ( Mine's the one with the pamphlet in the pocket )

  7. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921 Bronze badge

    >Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a lung pathogen that is developed a high tolerance to antibiotics.


  8. adam 40 Silver badge

    Its antivirals we need right now, not antibiotics!

    Especially if:

    can be believed.

  9. BGatez

    Great, assuming

    1. They actually work

    2. they are any better than existing drugs

    3. their side effects aren't worse than what they hope to cure

  10. Robert Helpmann??
    Paris Hilton

    Alternate Universe

    The development of new antibiotics is proving problematic as ... drug companies go broke ...

    Which drug companies are going broke?

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